Jul 03, 2022

Communication is Key to Managing a Multigenerational Workforce 

One way great leaders satisfy their followers is to effectively communicate with them. This too is effective in the workplace as communication is key to managing a multigenerational workforce. But how can a manager effectively communicate across a multigenerational team whose styles completely differ? 

Effective communication in a diverse workplace 

Every interaction has an opportunity to impact someone’s world. Whether the communication is spoken or written, you can leave someone feeling positive or negative. More specifically, psychologists define “speech acts”. 

These acts or requests, promises and assertions, among others, can be transmitted in different communication styles. As you can imagine, managing a multigenerational workforce by exerting power has a very different outcome from practicing democracy. 

Older generations have different assumptions about effective communication. Where younger employees might be more relaxed and colloquial, baby boomers born in the 40s might be what they call “more respectful”. In fact, we all have different ideas about how to show respect in the work environment. This humorous article from the US Chamber of Commerce Institute demonstrates that.  

You have to be mindful of misunderstandings and changing needs when managing a multigenerational workforce. Essentially, managers have to adapt. They must stay involved and keep gathering feedback to foster diversity and inclusion. Of course, this also means that effective communication in a diverse workplace leverages empathy and emotional intelligence.

The challenge for any leader is to balance opposing ideas and find a way to integrate them. For example, effective communication will honor the individual whilst catering to the team. Leaders can only do this with a high level of self-awareness and fundamental top leadership skills

Effective communication in a diverse workplace is more than just exchanging words. It’s about owning a mindset for which there are many development opportunities. At LingoLive, we offer a specific language coaching program to meet developmental needs around communication, presentation skills, cultural sensitivity and leadership. The aim is to enable leaders to tap into the right mindset and be sensitive to all behaviors. This can also make more effective managers in a multigenerational workforce.

What behaviors do top leaders practice for effective communication in a diverse workplace?

  • They practice mindful communication. As this paper shows, mindful communication positively impacts and aligns followers because it engenders authenticity and humility. Both of these traits make managing a multigenerational workforce more effective.
  • They implement integral thinking. Effectively communicating in a diverse workplace brings out the best in people. Integral leaders do this by moving from an either/or way of thinking to a both/and mindset. This approach balances opposing ideas for the benefit of both individuals and the team. 
  • They lead across boundaries. Managing a multigenerational workforce requires having fluid boundaries. Functions and hierarchies need to collaborate and exchange ideas as do cultures and generations. The best leaders use effective communication to build trust and engagement. They create a sense of purpose for co-learning and co-developing ideas across all ages.

Other challenges of managing a multigenerational workforce 

When they enter the workforce, younger workers expect more work-life balance than perhaps the baby boomer generation. Gen Xers want to be more autonomous, having grown up with two working parents. On the flip side, the millennial generation craves purpose and wants to save the world. All this can make managing a multigenerational workforce challenging. Nevertheless, it starts with communication.

Effective communication in a diverse workplace can’t be one size fits all. Each generation has its preferred channel for sharing information. So, where baby boomers and some Gen Xers are happy to receive phone calls, millennials and generation Z are more engaged with texts and social media. Managers therefore have to stay flexible and open to feedback when managing a multigenerational workforce that prefers different communication techniques.

When compared to previous generations, younger generations are generally less loyal. As they don’t buy into the traditional idea of one company for life, they need personal benefits. For example, tailored professional development is important. Effective communication and teaching effective communication can also appeal to employee values. The more you can provide a purpose when managing a multigenerational workforce, the more you can engender loyalty. 

Interestingly, the article “Generational Differences At Work Are Small. Thinking They’re Big Affects Our Behavior,” by  Eden King, Lisa Finkelstein, Courtney Thomas and Abby Corrington, tells us they might not be as big as we think they are. Yes, there are differences in needs and preferences when managing a multigenerational workforce. Nevertheless, perhaps our biases are unnecessarily magnifying the stereotypes. The challenge now becomes how to implement effective communication in a diverse workplace that deals with these stereotypes. 

Baby boomers born in the 40s are just as motivated to deliver good work as millennials are. They might have a slightly different way of doing it but managing a multigenerational workforce isn’t about micromanaging. Instead, it’s about setting a direction and enabling people to get there themselves. 

How can effective communication in a diverse workplace remove stereotypes? 

  • Openly discuss biases: we all have biases but not talking about them means succumbing to them. Open dialogue brings awareness to our thoughts and actions and builds effective communication in a diverse workplace. Moreover, training programs and language coaching can bring to light the words we use to refer to the various groups. 
  • Allow for changing needs: managing a multigenerational workforce means staying tuned in to how personal circumstances change. For example, having children usually means people want more time at home. So, it’s important to manage through results and not by presence. 
  • Value strengths: effective communication in a diverse workplace builds on individuals’ strengths. The more we can appreciate each other for the value we bring, the more we can collaborate. That’s why our LingoLive coaching program focuses on building strengths whilst raising behavioral awareness. These are the building blocks for managing a multigenerational workforce. 

Effectively managing four generations in the workplace 

The big concern when baby boomers retire is that a wealth of knowledge will be lost. To counteract this, managers can enable knowledge sharing through mentoring programs. Such programs encourage relationship building and support the positives of generational diversity. People who get to know each other are less likely to follow stereotypes blindly. Moreover, people become more open which further supports effective communication in a diverse workplace.

Another way to support leaders who manage a multigenerational workforce is to give them ways to develop their own mindsets and behaviors. Through leadership coaching, leaders become aware of their biases. They can also practice new behaviors to encourage cross-generational collaboration.

With the right mindset, the actions for managing a multigenerational workforce come naturally

  • Openly share working styles: cross-generational collaboration is much easier when you understand how each team member likes to work. Leaders are often nervous to show such vulnerability. Nevertheless, as this article on work preferences shows, sharing our styles drives effective communication in a diverse workplace. 
  • Highlight common ground: managing a multigenerational workforce means aligning them towards a vision. The key is to connect through common ground and values. For example, projects with multigenerational teams and agreed ways of working can boost collaboration and openness. Furthermore, they encourage effective communication in a diverse workplace.
  • Encourage buddy systems: employees engaged in building relationships across generations are more likely to understand each other. Then, managing a multigenerational workforce becomes about simply setting the direction while giving the freedom to execute. Buddies also get to know each other and build rapport. This further strengthens effective communication in a diverse workplace. 
  • Regular performance reviews: continuous and transparent feedback is critical for managing a multigenerational workforce. Moreover, it helps leaders adapt their style to different people to cater for their various needs. For example, some prefer more autonomy and others crave reassurance with constant feedback. To keep feedback respectful and constructive, effective communication in a diverse workplace must focus on empathy. 
  • Multiple communication channels: leaders need to stay mindful and flexible whilst appreciating that we all share information differently. So, effective communication in a diverse workplace needs a plan for multiple channels. This means that leaders should be both on the ground to watch and learn what really happens whilst listening and talking to people. To complement this, a consistent message needs to be heard through text, email, chat groups and any other technology as required. 

Effective communication is a foundation for positive employee relationships

Today’s workforce operates in a complex and ever-changing world. Effective communication in a diverse workplace with multiple age groups is more than just sharing information. It’s the foundation for relationships and connecting with employees. Regardless of age, employee experience is enhanced when communication is mindful, open and inclusive. 

Managing a multigenerational workforce means respecting different needs. Make sure you build collaboration by setting up buddy systems, language or leadership coaching and ongoing feedback. Furthermore, leaders should be open about stereotypes. By focusing on strengths and values, they also further connect people through shared common ground. 


Coaching, Communication, Company Culture, Diversity & Inclusion, Leadership

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